San Antonio — Sister Jean might be Loyola-Chicago’s biggest fan, but that hardly means she’s the only source of support for the Ramblers.
When it comes to playing the game and dealing with the hype surrounding the Final Four, the underdogs from the Missouri Valley Conference are taking advantage of a unique connection to an NBA player whose been exactly where the Ramblers are now as they get set to take on Michigan on Saturday in the first of two national semifinals.
That’s because the brother of assistant coach Drew Valentine, Denzel, happens to play right down the road from campus for the Chicago Bulls.
“He’s come and played with the guys in the summer and has come to games during the year,” Drew Valentine said of his brother’s connection to the team. “He’s built up relationships, especially with Donte Ingram and Marques Townes. Him and Donte talk all the time and he’s been giving him advice on what to do a little differently.”
Denzel Valentine has been down this road, though he did it with a major program when Michigan State reached the final four in 2015 when he was a junior. He also understands the downside of the NCAA Tournament, losing in the first round the next season when the Spartans were a favorite to win the whole thing.
It’s that wisdom the current Loyola players are soaking up from the newest Ramblers fan.
“He’s cool and he stays in touch,” Ingram said. “He reaches out to us on Instagram and he’ll text me and say, ‘Good game. You guys are looking good.’
“He’s done a good job of supporting us. He’s been out to a couple of games when he could in that busy schedule.
“He’s a very good resource, another four-year guy who obviously is doing well in the NBA and to have somebody of that stature giving you advice and feedback and supporting you is a good feeling.”
Denzel has been bugging his brother for some more Loyola-Chicago gear to wear, something that will come in handy when he makes it to town in time to support his brother.
Drew is in his first season with the Loyola and was a graduate assistant with the Michigan State team that played in the 2015 Final Four.
“He’s flying in first thing Saturday and then he’s gonna head out pretty much right after the game Saturday night because (the Bulls) play on Sunday,” Drew Valentine said.
“He definitely couldn’t miss this.”
Drew Valentine was hoping his brother would be in town early enough to address the team before they tip with Michigan at 6:09 tonight. He’s also hoping fellow Lansing native and Sexton High graduate Bryn Forbes will get a chance to talk to the team.
Forbes, who plays for the San Antonio Spurs, played with Denzel at Sexton and was part of the 2015 Michigan State team that reached the Final Four.
It’s the sort of insight the players on the Loyola-Chicago roster are soaking up.
“Anybody that plays in the NBA, having them reach out to us and give us support is really good because they’ve been through this exact process,” Townes said.
“(Denzel) told us to enjoy the moment, enjoy the process. Don’t think about it too much, just stay normal.”